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National Peanut Festival reports good year


By Linda McNatt

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The dust from the National Peanut Festival in Dothan, Alabama was beginning to settle, but fair officials were still talking about a new peanut food introduced in a cooking contest at the festival.

Colby Windham,  a 15-year-old high school student, submitted a recipe for peanut hummus in a cooking contest. Traditional hummus is made from chickpeas, but Colby made his dip recipe from boiled peanuts, said Carrie Cavender, office manager for the peanut festival for 25 years.  Fair officials were grabbing the veggie sticks and chips and dipping as fast as they could, Cavender said. The recipe for the traditional Middle Eastern dish will go up on the peanut fest website shortly, she said.

And Windham won it all - the grand prize, cash, a ride in the festival parade.

Meanwhile, a new hummus dish wasn't the only success at the fair. Overall, things went very, very well, said Cavender. Attendance was about 182,000, representing a slight increase of 2 or 3 percent over previous years, she said. Midway, food and concessions realized about the same small increase.

"We had a great year," said Cavender. "We had rain one night, but the rest of the time the weather was gorgeous. The rain that one night really didn't keep anybody away."

Gate admission for the 70th annual peanut festival - the fair was celebrating its 70th, or platinum, year - was $7. The festival was held from November 1 through November 10. And there were several days that special people could get into the fair for a reduced price.  Farmers and their families were admitted on November 6 for free. On November 7, senior citizens, with proper identification that they were over 55, were admitted for $5. Members of the military and their families, with proper identification, were admitted for $5 throughout the run of the fair. A 22-ride armband was available at the gate for $12, and, on the last day of the fair, there was a special armband for rides available for $20.

Once fairgoers got through the main gate, there was plenty to see and hear. There was a cheerleading competition, a Border Collie demonstration, a calf scramble, a greased pig demonstration and a whole lot more.

Peanuts, of course, were everywhere. The fair celebrates the harvesting of one of the most important agricultural crops grown in the area. Dothan officials estimate that more peanuts are grown within a 100 mile radius of their city than anywhere else in the world. Dothan claims to be the "Peanut Capital of the world."

There's more than one claim to that title. Virginia has a peanut festival as does Georgia, said Cavender.
"We're just the best," she said.

Free peanuts were sitting out for fairgoers all over the fairgrounds, said Cavender. A giant cement mixer spread peanuts across the parade route at the peanut fest parade. Volunteers were encouraged to hand out peanuts to fair visitors.

The National Peanut Festival started as a three-day festival in 1938. Dr. George Washington Carver, a peanut researcher at Tuskegee University, was the guest speaker for the first festival. Carver gained international fame for developing over 300 products from the peanut.  The Dothan peanut festival was celebrated annually through 1941. It was then postponed until after World War II. The first post-war festival was held in 1947, and it has continued ever since. The peanut festival has been held on the fairgrounds on U.S. 231 since 1999.

It has expanded into a 10-day festival with more than 150,000 people attending each year. The fairgrounds are spread across 200 acres with two exhibit buildings, an amphitheater, an open air arena and an agricultural complex. The facility now hosts annual events in what is known as the "Wiregrass area" of Alabama.

1950 was a banner year for the festival. Miss America attended, Johnny Mack Brown rode his horse in the parade, and Eddy Arnold appeared in concert.
Working with more than 300 volunteers, the National Peanut Festival has amusement rides, animal attractions, ag displays, concerts, livestock shows and a parade.

And working with members of 4H groups and the Future Farmers of America, the festival also has a junior heifer and feeder steer show, an open dairy goat show, beef cattle shows and market hog shows, a junior hog show, a poultry show, youth meat goat and boer goat show.

Easton Corbin, the country and western singer with his number one hit "A Little More Country Than That," entertained at a successful concert. Corbin is a native of Florida. The festival also hosted Needtobreath, a popular contemporary Christian group.

Festival food was "anything you could batter and fry," said Cavender. That was in addition to the traditional fair food like corndogs, funnel cakes and burgers.
The festival was advertised through all kinds of media, she said, traditional billboards, electronic boards, print, radio, television, social media. Fair officials refused to divulge their advertising budget.

Reithoffer Shows, in their fifth year at the peanut festival, provides the midway.

On the midway, they had about 90  rides, including a seprate kiddy land. There was the Century Wheel, the fun slide, the Gravity Storm, Krusty Krab Fun House, Mardi Gras, the mini Himalaya, the Mini Indy, the New York Dark Ride and the Tornado.

One of the most successful events of the fair was the food drive to benefit food banks in the Dothan area. Fair officials asked those coming into the festival to bring one jar of peanut butter - that remarkably nutritious food - or three cans of food in exchange for $2 off the price of general admission or $5 off the cost of a ride armband. The National Peanut Festival brought in over 27,000 pounds of food to help the underprivileged.

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